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Free Jess

By       Message Geoffrey of Bordentown     Permalink
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The Jess software package which was developed by Sandia National Laboratory is not “free,” according to Sandia. Jess is a rule engine for Java. It's probably a decent rule engine because Jess gained publicity recently when reports surfaced that the US Navy had chosen to use Jess in its next generation destroyer ship.

But why isn't Jess “free?” Why can't private US businesses freely use Jess too? I have a big problem with that, as a US citizen. Jess should be free. Am I just being naive? No, just the opposite is true.

Yes, I know very well that Jess is not “free.” Jess is very expensive in fact. I know because my wallet is too light – I already paid tens of thousands of dollars every year for Jess and other federal work. Significant US federal tax money was paid to Sandia National Lab and in particular a salary was paid to the fine Sandia researcher, and to the operators of his equipment at Sandia, to research and develop this excellent Jess software for the benefit of Americans. And I mean for the benefit of all Americans, not just government workers and academics. And I mean without additional payments on the back end.

Jess was paid for up front. Just like municipal police salaries and equipment. You don't pay police again on the back end, on a piecemeal basis for their work. Would you call police services “free” too? If you pay property taxes, you certainly know first hand how absurd it is to call police “free.”

Sandia Labs says Jess is “free” only for academic use, and it says a home office license or a commercial license can be “purchased” for an unspecified “negotiable” price.

'Purchase?' 'Negotiable price?' No, I am sorry, these terms are not acceptable. Maybe we should instead talk to Congress to “free” our national laboratories from our income tax stream.

As a US citizen I find Sandia's position a very offensive one for a so-called “national laboratory” to take, for the sale of the products they already created on the public dime. Sandia surely accepted my tax money freely and without discrimination. My substantial federal tax money and the rest of the US citizens have paid in full for the development of the Jess software already. I believe that the excellent Jess researcher's entire employment salary at Sandia during the time he created Jess was completely paid for directly or indirectly through a government contractor, by the tax money of US citizens.

Taxpayers should not have to pay twice for the same outputs from any so-called US national laboratory. Otherwise what have I been allowing these labs to take my tax money for? “Nice to know” academia purposes only? No way. Citizens want efficiency. Efficiency means not paying for the same thing twice.

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I would personally like to potentially use the Jess software for nonacademic use. Research is of little value unless we do something with it, something more than “finding out what's possible” which is what academia does. To be clear, I am happy with academia and national labs finding out what's possible. Keep up the good work guys. Alright maybe it's not so OK that you are competing with private software businesses who make rule engines and you are using public money to compete, and they are not, but OK for now. That's a discussion for another day. Now that you made something useful, like Jess, please, now fire your lawyers, as they are overhead, and they are getting in our way with adding their restrictive licenses onto the public property of American citizens. We built it, it is therefore ours.

I am not employed by any university. Nor should my employer matter in any way at all. US citizens, all of them, without discrimination, have fully paid for Jess already with their very significant federal income taxes. The private and public universities did not pay for Jess, yet they are getting to use Jess for free? Are you kidding me? What makes it OK for a subset of Americans to use Jess freely, but not the rest of the people who paid for it?

I am not merely interested in some “nice to know” academic information. I want to put Jess to real use in a larger commercial computer software application that I intend to create, at quite significant cost and effort from my own brain and labor and savings account and computer equipment. My labor and equipment was not subsidized by taxpayers. I do expect, and should expect, the freedom to receive fair monetary compensation for my own work to whatever degree I can achieve for the enterprising use of my own creative time, skill, labor, and equipment as a software developer and businessman. It literally cost me and my family my lifetime to develop the necessary and substantial skills to be able to develop innovative commercial software and business acumen.

What kind of government efficiency are we talking about if the fruits of citizen tax money are being spent at national labs, while their outputs are being reserved merely for the “nice to know” purposes of academia, with unnecessary and offensive additional “negotiable price” obstacles being tacked on to dissuade the software from being put to real work in innovative businesses and in small home offices?

It would cost Sandia National Lab nothing additional whatsoever, to simply allow ALL Americans to download and use Jess without restrictions. Jess is currently available for download on a web site today. The only thing stopping me from doing whatever I want with Jess is the stupid license agreement, which would be easily removed by Sandia or the US Congress at virtually no cost should the US federal government simply choose to do so.

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There is no excuse for these taxpayer funded national labs to be withholding the software they developed on the public tax dollar from the public that requested the research work and paid for it in full in the first place.

To be clear, of course there are some things that national laboratories create which are not safe for uncontrolled public consumption, like nuclear weapons. Jess on the other hand is safe and is already freely available from an Internet connected computer sitting anywhere in the world to download from Sandia's Internet web site, and rightly so.

Ironically, practically speaking there is nothing whatsoever stopping foreigners from downloading Jess today and benefiting from using Jess in any way they see fit, and ignoring the license, even though American citizens alone have already footed the whole bill to develop Jess. Lucky foreigners! The Sandia web site is accessible to all people in all countries even those without trade agreements with the USA. To restrict Jess's use by American businesses in any way, makes no practical sense. Just how badly do we really want America's technological and competitive business advantages to move overseas? The answer is not to add more restrictions on foreigners. The answer is more freedom for Americans. (I prefer freedom. And is freedom really present if it's restricted?)

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WARNING: If anybody thinks software and music and movies are the only things protected to the fullest extent of the law, check this: This citizen is protected by domestic law, international treaties, and constitutions. This citizen, and all (more...)
 

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